For Immediate Release, June 3, 2009
Mike Leahy, Defenders of Wildlife, (406) 586-3970
Mike Petersen, The Lands Council, (509) 209-2406
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Woodland Caribou May Receive Habitat Protections:
Feds to Decide Critical Habitat for Rare Caribou by 2012
WASHINGTON— After seven years of getting the cold shoulder from the Bush administration, woodland caribou may finally receive protections for the habitat they need to survive and recover, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced earlier this week.
Settling a longstanding legal petition filed by a coalition of conservation organizations in 2002, the Obama administration has agreed to review whether woodland caribou need habitat protections – pledging to have a draft decision ready by November 2011 and a possible final designation of critical habitat complete by 2012.
“After years of doing little for this critically endangered species, it’s time we protect the last habitat these magnificent animals have left,” said Mike Leahy, the Rocky Mountain region director for Defenders of Wildlife. “We are pleased the Fish and Wildlife Service is finally moving toward protecting the places that are crucial for survival of the woodland caribou.”
This settlement marks a sharp turn in the management of one of the nation’s most endangered species. Confined to borderlands between the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho and Canada, the U.S. population of woodland caribou is down to a single herd of as few as 45 animals. The Selkirk herd used to roam as far south as northern Idaho and into northwestern Washington state.
But recent surveys show that as few as three caribou have ventured south of the Canadian border each year. The rest of the herd has been effectively excluded from much of the U.S. portion of its habitat – over half of its entire range – by the combined effects of past logging and roads and heavy ongoing recreational use, and is facing similar threats in Canada.
“You can't protect woodland caribou without protecting the places they live,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we want to see these animals roam our forests again, we need places free from excessive logging, snowmobiles, and other threats.”
Since 1984, the woodland caribou has been protected under the Endangered Species Act but has failed to recover because the little habitat left to the species remains largely unprotected. A critical habitat designation would decrease pressures on areas that woodland caribou depend on by ensuring federal actions do not disturb their habitat.
“It may be a long time before we see caribou roaming the lower 48 states as they did for thousands of years,” said Mike Petersen, executive director of The Lands Council. “Though we may never again see as many caribou on the land as we did in the past, we have an obligation to ensure that there’s still a place for them in the wild.”
The coalition of wildlife groups includes Defenders of Wildlife, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, Inland Empire Lands Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Lands Council • Defenders of Wildlife • Center for Biological Diversity